As someone looking for a culinary school to provide more than just basic food knowledge, I was delighted to hear (from my Admissions officer during my OCI school tour) that OCI had a Chef Instructor from Nepal that specialized in spices, and more importantly to me, came from a lineage of medicinal healers. I also come from an ancestry of healers. My great grandmother’s knowledge of the human body and her understanding of natural remedies for pain and illness were, I thought, insurmountable. I couldn’t believe that a culinary school would devote any portion of their curriculum to the medicinal properties of food. It was game changing for me.
Chef Bikrim Vaidya is an OCI favorite, and if you’ve been a part of the school in any way, sort of a mascot. During my schooling at OCI, Chef motivated me to understand, appreciate and study the products I was using in my dishes. His never ending quest for knowledge and his enthusiasm for passing that knowledge to his students is what makes him truly one of a kind. I continue to see the influence he has on his students, current and graduated. He is definitely someone that has inspired me throughout my culinary journey. I found it only appropriate to interview Chef Vaidya for my very first blog post.
TF: I know your family in Nepal has a long history with food and its connection to health. Can you tell me more about your family history and how you have been influenced by the generations that came before you?
CV: My last name Vaidya comes from the word “Ayurvedic”, the ancient medical practice on the art of healing and prolonging life through natural remedies. For generations my family in Nepal has earned their living working as natural ayurvedic healers.
My family’s main concern when practicing ayurvedic healing is understanding the patient’s body system, then matching them with the correct natural remedies. Dosha (body type) helps us analyze and realize what food is good for their body. Finding balance between the three Doshas (Vata, Pitta and Kapha) can help the patient stay within their natural body food perimeter, and will help them stay healthy longer.
That’s the problem with western medicine. Western medicine “cures” fast by numbing the pain and not healing. This develops bad habits with people and their food. They eat whatever they want and don’t take care of themselves.
Today western medicine is #1, even my family’s pharmacy in Nepal has adapted some western medicines and techniques.
TF: How do you feel about that?
CV: Both good and bad. By practicing both eastern and western medicine we can treat our patients with a healthy balance of both…which most patients want. We still help patients with their diet and try to push them to be healthier.
TF: Let’s talk about your personal journey with food. When/where did your journey with food begin?
CV: Since childhood…In my mother’s womb I think. She is an awesome cook…the best…everyone knows it in my family. I spent a lot of time in the kitchen with my mom and my grandma…they really inspired me.
TF: Is there a specific time that was more influential than others?
CV: Boarding school is when I was most influenced by food. In school all the students were served really great, healthy food to eat. Our chefs were top notch…our school was known for the great food they fed their students.
My food journey really began after boarding school. I opened a restaurant in Nepal and came to America wanting to learn more about the fast paced restaurant industry. I ended up in San Francisco California working in some amazing restaurants. That really took me to the next level in my culinary career.
TF: What is your fondest memory with food?
CV: During my time in culinary school. I was new to western cooking and it forced me to experiment with different foods.
Wait…Actually, everyday cooking is fun! I have to cook every day at home for my family. That’s fun! There’s no such thing as a specific food memory. Every day is a favorite memory to me!!
TF: Do you have a favorite food/dish to prepare?
CV: Dalbhat. Lentils and rice.
TF: I remember in class you saying that you eat it every night right?
CV: Yes, every night. It’s what keeps me healthy and moving every day, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to teach my students like you.
TF: As a Chef, mentor, instructor, healer…what would you say, thus far, would be your biggest career accomplishment?
CV: My biggest achievement is…just like you. Students that come here not even knowing how to hold a knife…after they graduate from school they come back as Sous Chefs or Executive Chefs and say, “Chef, thank you! You changed my life. If you hadn’t pushed me that moment I wouldn’t be here. Without you none of this, my career, would have happened.”
TF: I bet that’s a great feeling.
CV: Oh yeah, the best.
TF: I’m sure there have been obstacles along the way in your career. What have you found to be the most challenging/or biggest hurdle in your career?
CV: Communication and language. It’s very frustrating not being able to explain clearly to students what I want. Students sometimes misunderstand me and it’s difficult.
TF: What advice do you have for those thinking about attending culinary school?
CV: Research, Research, Research, Research…and ask yourself if you really want to be there. Can you commit to the education?
TF: What about those that are currently enrolled at OCI?
CV: Motivation; put your heart and soul in there. If I can do it…anyone can do it!